This post is part of a series on what to do when you have one day in port on a Cruise. You can find more posts from this series on my page, How To Spend One Day In Port.
If you like to cruise around Europe as we do, chances are you have found yourself on at least one of the Balearic Islands. This archipelago off the coast of southwest Spain includes Ibiza, Menorca, Formentera, and Mallorca. Ibiza and Mallorca are standard ports of call for cruise ships. Palma on Mallorca is the capital city of this autonomous region in Spain.
I know the title of my post promises to show you what you can do in just one day in Palma, but we’ve had the good luck of pulling into this beautiful port, not once but three times. Each time we visited Mallorca, we chose to do distinctly different things on the island. So this post has three different ways for you to spend one day in Palma de Mallorca and around this island.
What is the difference between Mallorca, Majorca, and Palma de Mallorca
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And this brings us to the difference between Mallorca and Majorca and, finally, Palma de Mallorca.
Mallorca is often also spelled Majorca. You will run into Spanish and Catalonian spellings and pronunciations of the same words throughout Spain. In the case of Mallorca and Majorca, the latter is the anglicized version of the name. Hence I use Mallorca here as this is what the Spanish would use.
Folks who don’t live in Spain may not realize that Mallorca is a large island. The majority of the population lives in the city of Palma. You often hear people saying they are going to Palma de Mallorca, not just Mallorca. Still, there are many other cities and towns on the island of Mallorca you should consider visiting.
One Day In Palma de Mallorca – First Visit
Petra, Mallorca Spain – A Visit To The Home Of Fra Junipero Serra
We found a guide, Alex, and a driver, on Tour By Locals to take us around this beautiful island on our first visit. Alex queried us quite a bit about our likes and interests. Then she put together an itinerary she thought would show us the things on her island that would interest us the most.
Quick note here we are home-based in California. This one piece of information set Alex on a particular path. Many of you most likely learned about the Jesuit Monks who worked their way through California from South to North, building “Missions” led by Father Junipero Serra. You may not know (we sure didn’t) that Father Serra was born and raised on Mallorca in a small town called Petra.
After picking us up at the port in Palma, Alex confirmed we’d like to see Petra, and we headed east out of town across the island. When we reach Petra, our tour begins. The museum is located in Serra’s childhood home. It depicts the typical life of the townspeople in Mallorca in the 18th century.
At the entrance to the museum is a well-manicured garden with palm and almond trees. There you see a traditional “Mission Bell” and mosaics of the Missions in California. These were sent from California to Petra to commemorate the opening of the Museum of Juniper Serra Fray.
Like many people, before our trip to Mallorca, we had never really visited the Missions in California. Sure I lived in San Francisco and probably drove by Mission San Francisco de Asis more than 100 times. But I never visited this mission, nor any of the other four missions within, say, an hour’s drive of San Francisco.
This is an oversight I have now remedied. While driving up and down California over the past three years to visit my daughter in Los Angeles, I made side trips to all 21 Missions.
Walking Back In Time Through The Drach Caves
After visiting Petra, Alex brings us further to the island’s east side to see Drach Caves (Dragon Caves is the English translation). This is a popular excursion from the cruise ships that come to Palma de Mallorca. Why? Because this set of caves is beautiful and acoustically perfect for incredible concerts.
When we arrive, Alex leads us down into the caves. Like many cave sites worldwide, the rock formations made over the centuries are lit up dramatically. As you wind your way down through the stalactites and stalagmites to Lake Martel, you are walking back in time. It is believed that Drach developed between 11 and 5.3 million years ago.
Once you arrive at the shore of the lake, you see the tourist authority has installed a small theater. Because we are a party of just two (my husband and me), Alex has secured a prime location for us to watch the concert.
When everyone is seated, the show begins. In the distance, you see small boats lit up sailing through the lake. On each boat is a group of musicians playing beautifully. It is a magical experience. And also a respite from the heat of the day. Inside the caves, the temperature is a cool 19 – 21⁰ celsius.
After the concert, guests are offered either a ride on the lake or a short walk along the water’s edge to the exit.
Porto Cristo, Manacor, Mallorca Home of Rafa (Raphael) Nadal
To finish up our day, we head over to the beach town of Porto Cristo. This town started off as a fishing village on the east side of Mallorca. Today the area sees more yachts and fancy sailing boats than fishing boats and is the home of the rich and famous, including the tennis star Rafa Nadal.
It’s been a long morning. We spend a quiet hour sitting by the harbor, enjoying lunch, and doing some souvenir shopping before heading back to Palma de Mallorca and our ship.
A Walk Through “Old Town” – Palma de Mallorca Visit #2
We decide to spend this one day in Palma de Mallorca with an app in hand, allowing ourselves to wander through the city. We are fresh off our Switzerland tour on our second visit to Palma.
As you may recall from our day trip to Luzern, I recently downloaded GPSmycity to my iPhone. This app has preset and custom walking tours to guide you through many cities and is available in both the App Store and Google Play. I am enchanted by my new GPSmycity app.
We take the bus service set up by the cruise line from the port into the city. This service runs about every 20 minutes and costs just 10€ per person round trip. The bus’s drop-off/pick-up point is off Avenue de Gabriel Roca, the boulevard that runs all along the harbor right across from the Cathedral.
We cross over the boulevard and stop at a local café for a quick coffee and bite as we haven’t eaten yet. Unknowingly, we order Palma’s most famous pastry, the “Ensaimada.” This is a puff pastry shaped in a spiral form, usually filled with some flavor of cream. We choose an almond cream for our Ensaimada, and it’s an excellent choice for breakfast. Yum!
Fueled with coffee and sugar, we are set to head out on our walk.
Cathedral-Basilica de Santa Maria de Mallorca or La Seu
Since we are literally right across the street from the Cathedral, we decide to start here. The ground was broken for this magnificent building in 1229, but construction was not finished until 1601. The Gothic-style basilica with Northern European influences sits atop what was once a Moorish-era mosque. This is not an unusual turn of events as one culture took over the city of another in the ancient world.
It’s Sunday, so Mass is being held. We choose not to enter during the religious ceremony. Instead, we tour the grounds around the Cathedral and the adjacent Palace of La Almudaina, admiring the architecture and the garden known as S’Horst del Rei (aka the King’s Garden).
From the garden, we head out to one of the main streets that winds its way through the city away from the harbor. Shamelessly I will share that we are looking for the HardRock Café Pin Shop. We got our first HardRock pin in London in 1996 and have been addicted to pin collecting every since.
The HardRock is also on the way to Placa Olivar Palma, a market we are hoping to view. We walk along admiring this beautiful city and find our pins and the market, which is unfortunately closed (remember, it’s Sunday). So we head back towards the harbor, past the Basilica St. Francesc, and eventually to the Arab Baths.
Remnants Of The Moors In Palma de Mallorca – The Arab Baths
We arrive at the Arab Baths (Banys Arabs), pay our entrance fee (just 2.5€ each), and enter the world of an 11th Century nobleman’s hammam. Hammam is what a bathing house was (and still is) called by the Moors who occupied Mallorca from roughly 900 – 1230 CE.
The architecture of the baths is primarily Byzantine. But if you look closely, you will notice that many of the columns and pillars in the building are of different styles and even from different eras. This is a prime example of early recycling. Many of the Arab Baths’ building materials were scavenged from other properties and other times, such as ruins of Roman sites.
Ending Our One Day In Palma de Mallorca For The Second Time
We exit the Arab Baths through the lovely courtyard gardens planted with stunning cactus, fragrant orange trees, and swaying palms. You can just imagine yourself sitting in this garden after partaking in the bath, chatting with your friends before heading home.
And so now we head home, well back to our ship. It’s just a short walk back to the shuttle pick-up point across from the Cathedral. Good thing, since all in, the fitness app on my iWatch recorded 4.8 miles of walking for the day. Not bad!
Getting To Know The Food And Santa Catalina Neighborhood – Our 3rd Day In Palma de Mallorca
This spring’s Transatlantic Cruise gave us another chance to spend one day in Palms de Mallorca. Again we choose to hire our own guide for a “food tour” of the city. We meet up with Adrianna at Hotel Cuba, just west of Avenida de l’Argentina, the unofficial end of Old Town and beginning of the Santa Catalina neighborhood.
This older neighborhood in Palma is close to the sea and was traditionally the home of the fishermen. Now, Santa Catalina is one of the trendiest places in town, filled with cafés, innovative restaurants, and lively nightclubs.
A short walk from the Hotel Cuba takes us through part of the old fisherman’s village, now newly renovated, and up to the city wall. From here, you can see how close the harbor is. Also, you see the remains of the windmills used by the miller to grind the grain for flour back in the day.
With this bit of history to set the stage, we head over to our first stop of the day.
Mercat de Santa Catalina (Market) – Palma’s Oldest Market
Palma’s oldest food market, built in 1920, Mercat de Santa Catalina, predates both L’Olivar and Pere Garau. Like in so many cities worldwide, this market is a central hub for the neighborhood. People gather here all day to eat, drink, and shop.
We have our first taste of Palma at Bar Joan Frau. We snack on a delicious plate of whole-grain artisan bread, tomatoes, and impeccably cured Spanish ham served with local olives before walking around the market.
Leaving the market, we head east back towards the old town, stopping first at Llotja, the former mercantile exchange for Palma built in the 15th century. This building, now empty, is an excellent example of Gothic-style architecture with its grand spiral pillars, soaring vaulted ceilings, and beautiful turrets.
Adrianna walks us by Es Baluard Museu d’Art (the Contemporary Art Museum). It is closed today, but the outside artworks and the views of the sea are wonderful.
One Of The Oldest Bakeries In Palma de Mallorca
We meander through the streets from the museum until eventually coming to Carrer del Forn de la Gloria. It’s not often you find a street named after its oldest business, but here you do. This is the street where you find La Gloria – Panaderia & Pasteleria.
This small bakery has been putting out fantastic loaves of bread, empanadas, pastries, and cookies for as long as anyone can remember. We taste one of La Gloria’s traditional empanadas filled with chorizo before heading to our next stop.
As we walk the old streets here in the medieval town, Adrianna shares her love for travel and tourism. Originally from Argentina, Adrianna has been a crew member on cruise ships and spent time booking tours in Argentina. Now living in Palma de Mallorca with her fiancé, she loves to show her city to those of us who come to visit.
Chatting back and forth about our lives and loves makes the walk through the city so much more enjoyable.
Vermouth Bars & Guadi (?) In Town
Near Placa Weyler, just off Placa Mercat, Adrianna shows us the Fundacio La Caixa, formerly the Grand Hotel, now a museum for contemporary art. This Modernist building was designed by Domenech i Montaner at the turn of the 20th century.
Caixa is one of the most beloved landmarks in Palma, often mistaken for a Gaudi. It’s easy to see why a layperson would think of Gaudi when looking at Caixa; the ornate Art Nouveau decorations certainly harken back to his designs.
Right in front of Fundacio la Caixa is our next food stop, La Rosa Vermuteria. I enjoy vermouth as an aperitif, but I did not know that, at least here in Palma, they now have full shops set up to honor this fine libation.
Time for some serious drinking; we are seated right at the bar and handed a dish of fresh chips. Adrianna explains why at each table there is an old-fashioned seltzer bottle. The seltzer at the table allows guests to add as much of the bubbly water as suits their taste.
But we are not just at Lo Rosa for chips and cocktails; Adrianna has ordered us up a slice of a traditional Spanish Tortilla for us to savor. The Spanish Tortilla is as simple a dish as you could come up with, just eggs and potatoes (and if you want controversy, onion). But, the Tortilla is only simple in its ingredients; making the Tortilla takes practice and, when done correctly, is a work of art.
And We Get To Finally See L’Olivar
We are heading towards the end of our time with Adrianna, but she has one last stop for us to see. Yup, we finally get to see L’Olivar! Olivar is more modern than Mercat Santa Catalina but offers similar shopping and eating opportunities. We stop in a bar to sample a small cheese and charcuterie board.
Our platter has two types of cheese (Manchego and Mahon ) and two types of cured meat, Jamon Iberico (Spanish ham from the Iberian Black Pig) and Botillo. Grapes and currant aspic add freshness and a sweet accompaniment. All this awesomeness is served up with a super glass of Spanish red wine. A great ending for our day of tasting, Yum!
Getting Into Palma de Mallorca From The Cruise Terminal
The two times we did not have a car and driver, we took the shuttle bus provided by the cruise line. You can walk as the road is flat and direct. However, it is about six to eight kilometers (3.5 to 5 miles), depending on which pier you are docked. To see more information about the cruise port, check out this website! And, of course, you will find public buses, taxis, and the ever more common Hop On Hop Off bus that may be available at the terminal.
How To Get To Palma de Mallorca
This post is mainly directed at people who arrive in Palma de Mallorca on a cruise ship. But you can find just many tourists who fly from Europe and the US to Mallorca. British Airways, Iberia, and Lufthansa all fly into Son Sant Joan Airport. Just this past month, United announced a non-stop from Newark, NJ. If you are looking for a discount airline, try EasyJet or Vueling.
If you happen to be in Barcelona, you can take a ferry to Mallorca. The ride lasts about 6 ½ hours. The Baleria ferries also provide access to the other islands: Ibiza, Formentera, and Menorca.
Where To Stay And Where to Play In Palma de Mallorca
If you’ve read this far, you have probably already figured out that you can easily spend more than one day in Palma de Mallorca. In fact, many people make Palma the place for their fun in the sun vacation holiday. Want to stay in Palma and Mallorca for longer? Head over to Booking.com to find good deals and great places.
Mallorca and the other Balearic Islands are popular destinations for holidayers looking for the fantastic Mediterranean weather and beaches. Lost of sun and sand are to be had all around the island. But don’t just take my word for it; you can read all about the beach culture on Mallorca Beaches.
With average summer temperatures ranging from 65 at night to 85 during the day, and oodles of things to do, you’ll have the summer break you’ve always dreamed of.
Will You Be Spending One Day In Palma de Mallorca Soon?
Are you heading out on a Mediterranean cruise soon? I hope you have a port call in Palma. This beautiful old city offers so many ways to spend your day and enjoy the culture of Spain. I could return again and again and never be bored. Let me know what you find on your adventure!